Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kitab 2008 and a Case of “Ulta Chor Kotwal Ko Dathe”

I don’t know why I am going on and on about Kitab 2008 but I want to get this off my chest, at least, so that I can breathe easy. The whole thing seemed to me an unsavoury reflection of the very vitiated atmosphere in the Indian literary space, if at all I could call it that. Also, it shows that we do not hesitate to gang up against a person without knowing, or asking for all the facts. I have been a victim of such ostracism in the past, and do not mind being ostracised in future, I know the mechanics, so I don’t care. And come to think of it, what happened to our “Mehman Nawazi” that we crib about giving our honoured British guests a little more care than our desi guests?

But why did the signatories of the email wait till the last minute to make the non-payment issue public? I also saw an SMS on Pablo’s mobile blackmailing him to pay up or face the music of a public exposure. Isn’t that amounting to blackmail and coercion? Doesn’t that also show the juvenile mind of the people behind the shoddy affair? David Israel calls this “appealing basically to tribal instincts,” and a commenter on Zigzackly’s blog says, “Correct me if I am wrong, if some Ganguly or the other didn't pay me, I would be after him, hound him, serve him ultimatums, drag him to court. What I would NOT do is wait for an entire year and then do some very public breast-beating.”

What misconception got lodged in people’s mind, and stays there is the fact that Pablo took all the money, didn’t pay the people who sweated it out, and this was their attempt to flesh him out (see Equivocal’s comment on Sharanya’s blog ).

But talking to Pablo what has become obvious is that the poor chap wasn’t even aware of where the money went (fact is: one of the signatories of the email was fully aware). However, fact is also that Pablo (Poor Pablo) expected to be paid a salary from the funds this lady collected and not pay her! And it was this lady who took the money and then disassociated herself from Kitab. Case of the famous Hindi saying, “Ulta Chor Kotwal Ko Dathe?” Meaning, “The case of the thief scolding the police.”

Now who’s the employer and who is the employee? Could be the plot of a good whodunit, don’t you think? Now, read the following two opinions from poet David Israel and Sharmila Dasgupta. Both think that it was deliberate “sabotage” at the end moment by misguided people motivated by the quest for more money.

David Raphael Israel

From what (very) little I've read about the Kitabfest brouhaha, one thing that struck me as questionable -- (though I certainly don't know many background details nor two sides of this, whatever they be) -- was that seemingly, the objecting employees went to the press just a few days before the launch of the new festival. If they had a legitimate complaint, there could (presumably -- a presumption no doubt) be many other ways and times to voice this. What they seem to have done was to sabotage the new festival -- harming not only Pablo, but also a budding institution and, for that matter, obviating many good things/activities/opportunities for a big community of writers and listeners. By playing the prejudice card (so to speak), they appeal basically to tribal instincts -- communal impulses involving archetypal feelings of mistreatment (etc.). If there is real mistreatment of this sort involved, why can't the matter be properly aired months before a new festival?

- David Raphael Israel in a private email, reproduced with his kind permission.

Sharmila Dasgupta

“I was there at Kitab 2007... all through the event. Didn't see any pro-British slant. Yes, we were very hospitable, and all Indians would be proud of this aspect of their cultural heritage — well, apparently not all.

“Another typically Indian thing about all this mud-slinging is the timing. Just on the eve of Kitab 2008. Correct me if I am wrong, if some Ganguly or the other didn't pay me, I would be after him, hound him, serve him ultimatums, drag him to court. What I would NOT do is wait for an entire year and then do some very public breast-beating.

“But in retrospect, that's so Indian. By the way, before some crackpot accuses me of being one of those preferentially-treated Brits, let me clarify. I am very much Indian, though occasionally ashamed to be so.

-Sharmila Dasgupta
On Zigzackly’s blog

They did all the real work behind the festival, including listening to complaints and yelling from participants, while Pablo Ganguli appears to have taken his own salary and disappeared out of reach right after the festival.

- Equivocal on Sharanya’s Blog


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Banno said...

Good post, John. Myself don't know what both sides of the issue are, and have been only following it online, but do agree that it seems a bit much to bring out the dirty linen on the eve of the fest.

John said...

Hi Banno,

Completely in agreement. It is sad how the festival was sabotaged.